Twice the Work, Half the Time
"No matter what you do, it will never amount to anything more than a
single drop of water in a limitless ocean." - Haskell Moore, 1849
"What is an ocean, but a multitude of drops?" - Adam Ewing, 1849
Tykwer and the Wachowskis did not anticipate working on two fronts when they set
to adapt Cloud Atlas. The logistics of filmmaking were overshadowed then by
their focus on
capturing the essence of Mitchell's novel. But as the script took shape, the
cast assembled and
the scope of what they were trying to accomplish became clear, the
dual-directing plan emerged
as the most efficient. They could shoot in half the time by dividing the effort
between two units
operating concurrently, each focusing on three of the story's six segments, and
each with their
own established team of talented collaborators, while the actors moved from one
to the other.
"One year before the start of production, we brought the department heads from
crews together for a four-week summit in Berlin so we could all sit down and
work through the
script," says producer Grant Hill. "We were testing relationships and methods
how this whole thing could work." Taking their cue from the directors, the
overwhelmingly collaborative. "With all these great people open to professional
realized it would be a matter of providing clear direction and an iron-clad
plan, and then
harnessing all this firepower."
The Wachowskis navigated Adam Ewing's 1849 ocean voyage, Sonmi's 2144 rebellion
and the events of Zachry's life in the 24th century. Their team included
Hugh Bateup and director of photography John Toll.
Tom Tykwer captured the journey of musical amanuensis Robert Frobisher in 1936,
journalist Luisa Rey's exposÃ© of corporate conspiracy in 1973, and the singular,
predicament of London publisher Cavendish in 2012. Joining him was production
Hanisch and director of photography Frank Griebe.
Production launched in September 2011 with Tykwer in Scotland and the Wachowskis
Mallorca. Combined, their exterior locations would ultimately include Glasgow,
the Scottish countryside, Saxony, and sites in Berlin, before culminating in
the-art soundstages for interiors and green screen.
Though countries apart, the trio was in constant touch. "The directors thought
every single detail, every cut and connection between all the pieces of the
story and were
tremendously prepared prior to shooting," producer Stefan Arndt acknowledges.
filming, they would call each other to say, 'You have to change something here;
when you shoot
the next scene, know that the actor is doing this or that.' They were great
able to share their decisions."
Mallorca provided the settings for the first and last portions of the saga,
serving first as
the Pacific Island from which Adam Ewing and Autua set sail for America, then as
valley where Zachry lives some 500 years later. Says Lana, "We decided it should
be the same
island. That, as well as the extremes of the Tom Hanks roles from Goose to
Zachry, bookend the
first and the final portions of the timeline and help to underscore the theme of
The scene in which Ewing encounters Dr. Goose on the beach was filmed in Sa
Cove in Torrent de Pareis, and Horrox's circa 1800s tobacco plantation was
created on a private
estate in Mallorca's Es Llombards area.
Ewing's ship, The Prophetess, was actually a beautifully preserved and seaworthy
vessel called the Earl of Pembroke, built in Sweden and now docked in Charleston
Cornwall, by the Square Sail Company. It sailed to meet the production in
Mallorca, where it
underwent some cosmetic changes. Its captain, Robin Davies, served as marine
the film, and he and his 15-member crew also appear as extras in the deck
Inland, the filmmakers found the rugged, mountainous backdrop for Zachry's trek
Meronym, taking advantage of the spectacular view atop Puig Mayor-at 4711 feet,
peak of all the Balearic Islands. There, an existing 1950s-era satellite station
still maintained by
the military was perfectly adaptable for the structure Meronym is seeking.
From Mallorca, the Wachowskis traveled to Saxony in Southeastern Germany, where
region's famous sandstone rock formations and thick forests completed the
picture of Zachry's
home and the surrounding woods where his family is menaced by the Kona. In
village, Bateup comments, "We didn't want to present this society as too
rudimentary, as if they
had reverted to the Dark Ages. We decided they were two or three generations
beyond a world
collapse and had learned how to survive and do things again. They made things
materials available to them, what they scavenged from cities. They're artisans,
For continuity, the small herd of goats Zachry is seen tending while at the
was transported to Saxony. Joining them were six horses, trained in Spain and
Madrid to Saxony for the terrifying Kona attacks on the village. Spanish stunt
Casares and his team rode the horses in these action sequences, while expert
rider and Steadicam
operator Jorge Agero was given the decidedly unsteady challenge of filming while
Tykwer, meanwhile, transformed a Glasgow neighborhood with inclined streets into
San Francisco. Signage and lights were replaced and locally sourced period cars
brought in for a
tense chase and shoot-out as Luisa Rey and Napier scramble to elude the assassin
Edinburgh's Council Chambers became the hotel where Frobisher escapes down the
drainpipe and, later, the city's famous Walter Scott Monument served as his
retreat and the place
where he last sees the love of his life. The 200-foot monument, heretofore never
closed to the
public for filming, granted "Cloud Atlas" two days' access so cameras and
equipment could be
hoisted up to the viewing platform by crane rather than via its narrow spiral
For Ayrs' stately manor where Frobisher seeks employment, Tykwer and production
designer Uli Hanisch joined the locations team in scouting the Scottish
countryside to find the
privately owned Overtoun House in West Dunbartonshire. It would serve not only
home in 1936, but appear re-dressed as the nightmarish Aurora Country Estates
is incarcerated in 2012. "We have nearly 80 years between them so the trees and
be different. The strategy was to add things like foliage for the earlier time
that we could then
remove for the plainer exterior, decades later," notes Hanisch. To further suit
scenes they added a conservatory and a formidable front gate.
Symbolically, Tykwer suggests, "It was once the chateau where Ayrs, the elderly
composer, tries to imprison young Frobisher, and then a lifetime later it's him,
Cavendish, who finds himself imprisoned in the place where he used to be the
It was determined in the film's conceptual stages that certain spaces should
repeated from one part of the story to another. "We wanted to be flexible,
Hanisch. "Sometimes it's the real place, sometimes just a hint. Our starting
point was Ewing's
cabin under the deck of the ship, and we recreated the shape of this room
Cavendish's office, Luisa Rey's apartment, Frobisher's room in Ayrs' mansion,
house and Zachry's hut."
Thus, the interior of Ayrs' opulent musical salon, built on a soundstage, became
Aurora Country Estates' depressing dining room. The restaurant where Sonmi
Bateup designed, boasts a cheerful, brightly lit, virtual atmosphere for
consumers to enjoy, but
after-hours reveals its grey cavernous reality. "We had to invent a consumer
society of 2144 and
imagine what a fast-food restaurant would look like. Lana and Andy have definite
how they see these periods so we tossed around ideas and eventually came up with
world," he says. After filming wrapped for those scenes, the space was
repurposed in black,
white and red as the rooftop venue for Cavendish's book reception, where a
pays homage to the virtual fish pond of the restaurant's floor.
The designers also established reappearing elements such as trains and bridges
in Frobisher's, Cavendish's, Luisa Rey's and Zachry's storylines. Egg-shaped
objects also recur,
from the toys in the factory that Luisa Rey runs through in San Francisco to the
and the recording device of Sonmi's archivist.
"We wanted our depictions of each era to be clear so there's no question whether
1930s or the 1840s," says Hanisch. "At the same time, visual cues and recycled
the idea of connections and the continuity of a single story."
Also responsible for the film's lush and seamless look were cinematographers
and Frank Griebe. "The principal visual design elements were in place when we
came onto the
film," notes Toll. "One major goal of the cinematography was to blend the look
of the individual
sequences that spanned 500 years to create an overlapping and rich dramatic feel
for the entire
story, but not necessarily by trying to create one specific and detailed look
for the whole film.
Basically, this meant a visual approach that was appropriate to each chapter
maintaining a sense of continuity throughout."
After meeting to confer on cameras, lenses and film emulsions, Griebe and Toll
their respective locations but kept track of one another's work via dailies.
Dan Glass, who has worked with the Wachowskis since "The Matrix," led the visual
effects department for both units. His work is most evident in the two
particularly the action-driven Sonmi sequences and the simulated atmosphere of
where she works, but not a single era missed his touch. He helped Tom Tykwerturn
into San Francisco and constructed its fictional Swannekke Power Station. "Tom
to shooting with practical locations so we worked more with the physical
augmented them. It was a great approach for the material," he says.
The scene in which Luisa Rey traverses the Golden Gate Bridge was filmed partly
water tank in Cologne and partly on the runway of Germany's former Tempelhof
the stunt cars collide and her Beetle goes over the rail. The remainder,
including the span of
bridge and the view of the San Francisco Bay, were digitally rendered.
For 2144 Neo Seoul, the filmmakers imagined a future where increased water
submerged the older portions of the city. "They've built vast walls to try to
keep the ocean out,
and in some of these areas we created tops of skyscrapers poking up from the
water to suggest
buildings deeper beneath," Glass describes. "Newer parts of the city, where the
live, we imagined shooting up from the tops of these ruins. As you descend, you
come across a
more grim and grimy world, the place where Chang's rebellion was born."
Sonmi's escape, and the breathtaking clashes between her champion Chang and the
government hit squad that takes them high over Neo Seoul's skyline and through
its depths, were
filmed with green screen and CGI at Babelsberg, where both units finally
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